Congress Has the Chance to Change Lives with the Build Back Better Act

Capitol Building

By Nora OBrien-Suric, PhD

I was disheartened and dismayed to see that the actions of some lawmakers are jeopardizing a proposed bill that could dramatically improve the lives and health care of millions of Americans.

The bill, known as the Build Back Better Act, is extensive and includes a number of initiatives to improve health care, including important enhancements to Medicare, expansion options for Medicaid, subsidies related to Affordable Care Act coverage, and funding to improve home care.

In an earlier blog post, I shared the Health Foundation’s support of the proposed Medicare enhancements that would provide life-changing coverage for dental, vision, and hearing to millions of older adults.

Unfortunately, some members of Congress voted against a widely-favored measure as part of the bill that would allow Medicare to negotiate with the pharmaceutical industry for lower prices for prescription drugs. Not only would the ability to negotiate lead to lower drug costs for older adults and others, but the government cost savings that result would fund many other aspects of the bill.

The provision to allow price negotiation is supported widely by members of both parties, both in Congress and in the general public. In a survey of voters, 70 percent of Republicans and 61 percent of Democrats supported the measure.

What’s at stake here besides the potential prescription drug cost savings? The items included in this bill could have a far-reaching impact on the health of many people.

In addition to the enhancements to Medicare coverage, the bill also would extend subsidies for health coverage through the Affordable Care Act. Already, we have seen the impact of these subsidies. Enrollment in ACA Marketplace coverage has increased significantly since the subsidies were enacted in the American Rescue Plan, meaning millions more Americans have access to affordable health coverage.

The bill would also address the Medicaid coverage gap by expanding premium tax credits to allow people in non-Medicaid expansion states with incomes below 100 percent of the federal poverty level to enroll in subsidized plans in the Marketplace.

Other key elements of the bill include continuation of the advance child tax credit program that has lifted millions of families out of poverty and funding that could transform the home care industry and improve the lives of older adults and caregivers who rely on this care.

Each one of these measures could be transformative for the lives and health of people in our community. That’s why I was discouraged to see some of our representatives delaying and possibly jeopardizing the bill by prioritizing the profits of the pharmaceutical industry over the needs of the people—and while we are still in the midst of a pandemic.

The American people no longer have time or patience for hand-wringing or obfuscation by our elected officials. The pandemic illuminated the many deficits in our health care system, and we are now given the opportunity to transform the way we approach care. It would be a shame to see some of those efforts upended at such a critically important time for change.